USED: 1936 to 1967
TYPE: Ocean Liner/Troopship
STATUS: Open as tourist attraction
The Queen Mary began construction in the December of 1930 in Clydebank, Scotland. Due to the Great Depression, work on the ship was ceased in December, 1931. In order to complete the project, Cunard (the construction company) applied for a loan from the British Government. It was approved, and there was enough leftover money that a second ship – the Queen Elizabeth – could be constructed.
One of the conditions of the loan stated that Cunard would have to merge with the White Star Line (Cunard’s primary British rival), a company that had to cancel the creation of the Oceanic due to the depression. On May 10th, 1934, merged together, and work on the Queen Mary returned immediately afterwards. A few months later on September 26th, she was launched.
Up until the launch of the vessel, the name was considered a secret and was guarded heavily. Rumor has it that Cunard had initially planned on naming the ship Victoria, as all of the company’s other ships ended with “ia”. When the company’s representatives asked the king for permission to name the ship after his wife, dubbed Britain’s “greatest queen”, the king said his wife would be delighted.
As the story goes, Cunard was obligated to name the ship the Queen Mary. However, company officials deny the rumor, as the names of sovereigns traditionally were only used for capitol ships of the Royal Navy. Washington Post editor Felix Morley supported the story, as he had sailed onboard the Queen Mary‘s maiden voyage in 1936.
Morley wrote in his 1979 autobiography, For the Record, that he had been seated at a table with the chairman of the Cunard Line, Sir Percy Bates. On the condition that the story wouldn’t be printed during his lifetime, Bates told Morley the tale of the ship’s past. It is also a possibility that White Star Line and Cunard compromised on the name, due to the fact that both had suffixes they used for each of their ships (“ic” for White Star, “ia” for Cunard).
Since there was already a ship by the name of TS Queen Mary, Cunard White Star made a deal with the owners of the preexisting Mary that it would be renamed the TS Queen Mary II. In 1934, the new vessel was launched by Queen Mary herself as the RMS Queen Mary. Her maiden voyage began on May 27th, 1936 in Southampton, England, and she was commanded by Sir Edgar T. Britten.
Three months later in August, the Queen Mary returned from New York to Southampton. She arrived safely, as she was escorted by the battle cruiser HMS Hood due to the beginning of World War II. On September 1st, the Mary set sail for New York, where she was forced to remain because of the war until further notice, alongside another ship known as the Normandie.
During the following March, the two liners were joined by Queen Elizabeth, a new ship by Clydebank. For a long while, the world’s largest ships sat idle. However, Allied leaders determined that the vessels could all be used as troopships. While being converted for troop use, the Normandie caught fire and was destroyed.
The Queen Mary was sent off for Sydney, Australia, where she would be converted to carry Australian and New Zealand soldiers to the United Kingdom. During the renovations, most of her structure was repainted a navy grey color. She was dubbed the “Grey Ghost” because of the new color scheme.
The Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were both the largest and fastest troopships in World War II, each carrying as many as 15,000 men in a single voyage. Because of this high speed, it made it difficult for the German U boats to attack them. On October 2nd, 1942, the Queen Mary accidentally sunk the HMS Curacoa, her escort ship, resulting in the death of 239 people.
Being that she carried thousands of American soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division, the Queen Mary was ordered to keep going no matter what due to the threat of U-boat attacks.
In the December of the same year, she was carried 16,082 US troops from New York to Great Britain, setting a world record for the most passengers ever transported on one ship. During the trip, the ship had issues and nearly capsized. The incident inspired the book The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico.
On numerous occasions, the Queen Mary carried British Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic Ocean in order to meet with Allied officials. When he boarded the liner, he was listed on the passenger manifest as “Colonel Warden” to protect his identity from the Axis powers.
Between September, 1946 to July, 1947, the Queen Mary was reconverted back to a passenger liner. During the late-1940s and 1950s, the Mary and the Queen Elizabeth led the pack on transatlantic passenger trade. During the mid-1960s, the Mary and Elizabeth average about 1,000 passengers per crossing.
In 1965, Cunard’s fleet was losing money, forcing them to mortgage most of their ships in order to finance the Queen Elizabeth 2, which was currently under construction. Multiple contributing factors led to Cunard retiring and selling the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth. The winning bid was from Long Beach, California at $3.45 million. The Mary was officially retired in 1967.
Her last crossing (her 1,000th) was completed on September 27th. Over the course of her use, she had 2,112,000 passengers and had traversed over 3,792,227 miles.
The Queen Mary was relocated to Long Beach, California after her retirement. There, she has been permanently stationed as a hotel, museum, event facility, and tourist attraction. Between the years of 1983 to 1993, the Mary was next to Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose.
On May 8th, 1971, the Mary was officially opened for tourists. Later on, on December 11th, Jacques Cousteau’s Museum of the Sea was opened, but it closed within the decade to the low number of visitors and large fish death toll. Over the course of two years (starting November 2nd, 1972), the Queen Mary opened up a total of 400 rooms for its hotel. Hyatt Hotels managed the Mary between 1974 and 1980, operating under the name the Queen Mary Hyatt Hotel.
In 1980, the ship was losing millions of dollars for the city of Long Beach each year due to the fact that the hotel, restaurants, and museum were run by three separate owners while the city owned the ship and guided tours itself. After the decision to get a single operator with experience, local millionaire Jack Wrather was hired for the job, as he had a sentimental attachment to the ship. He had memories of going on the ship, Bonita Granville, during its prime.
Wrather then signed a 66-year lease with the city of Long Beach that would allow him to operate the ship and its businesses. He also oversaw the use of the Spruce Goose on a long-term loan. Wrather Port Properties operated the Mary after his demise, from 1984 until 1988. His holdings were bought by the Walt Disney Company in 1988.
In 1955, Wrather was hired to build the Disneyland Hotel when Walt Disney did not have enough money to finance it himself. After 30 years of trying to pay off the hotel, they eventually succeeded – and also wound up with the Queen Mary. However, the ship was never marketed as Disney property.
During the late 1980s to the early 1990s, the Queen Mary had financial struggles, and Disney had hopes of turning the ship into Port Disney, an attraction/resort on the adjacent docks. In 1992, the plans failed to go through, as Disney decided to give up the lease of the Mary in order to focus operations on building what would later become the Disney California Adventure Park.
Having lost Disney, the Hotel Queen Mary was forced to close on September 30th, 1992. The Aero Club of Southern California, who owned the Spruce Goose, sold the Mary to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum (located in Oregon). She remained open as a tourist attraction for an additional two months; however, on December 31st, she shut down completely.
On February 5th of the following year, the RMS Foundation, Inc. signed a five-year lease through the city of Long Beach so that they could operate the property. The Mary reopened as a tourist attraction on February 26th, 1993, and the hotel returned on March 5th with 125 rooms. The other rooms were made available on April 30th.
In 1995, the RMS Foundation decided to extend their lease to twenty years (however, it changed the terms so they only possessed the ship and none of the adjacent properties). During the same year, the Queen’s Seaport Development, Inc. (QSDI) came into existence, and they took control of the ship’s surrounding area. Three years later, QSDI’s lease was extended to 66 years by the City of Long Beach.
In 2005, there was a rent credit dispute with the City, which forced QSDI to file for Chapter 11 protection. The bankruptcy court auctioned off the lease from QSDI in the following year, starting the bidding at $41 million. During the bankruptcy, the RMS Foundation remained independent. The lease of the Queen Mary was sold in the summer of 2007 to a group named “Save the Queen”, which was managed by the Hostmark Hospitality Group.
The group had intentions of upgrading, renovating, and restoring the vessel. Flatscreen TVs and iPod docks were added to become more technologically current. Additionally, lifeboats were repaired, the kitchens were renovated with updated equipment, and the Promenade Deck’s planking was refinished.
The management of the Queen Mary was changed once more in late September, 2009 when the Delaware North Companies bought it with plans of future renovations.
Hands were changed one last time in Aprill, 2011, when the City of Long Beach announced that Delaware North was no longer managing the vessel. Today, the Garrison Investment Group currently owns the ship, and Evolution Hospitality, LLC operates it under the lease GIG as of September 23rd, 2011.
Most of the Queen Mary‘s fame, however, comes from its paranormal activity, with reports of a haunting originating from the 1980s. Cabin B340 (formerly Cabin B326, pre-WW2) famous for having ghostly phenomenon; it was the site of a murder, and the victim’s apparition has been witnessed in the room. Children can be heard playing in the nursery when it is empty.
Other resident spirits include a young sailor who died in an accident in the engine room, victims of the Queen Mary-Curacoa collision, and the “lady in white”. The number of deaths on the Mary is reported to be at least 49 people, with a breakdown of 75% crew members and 25% passengers. Most of the deaths were drownings. The number of POW and servicemen deaths have not been released by the U.S. military.
In Popular Culture
Walter Fort Carter’s book, No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love, told about the ship.
- In 2008, Time Magazine dubbed the Mary as one of the top 10 most haunted places in America.
- The Queen Mary has appeared on a number of TV shows, including Ghost Hunters and Unsolved Mysteries.